Palestinians say videos back claims of Israeli abuse
Recent videos show Israeli troops shooting a wounded Palestinian at close range, pepper-spraying Palestinian medics, ramming a Palestinian with a jeep and threatening refugee camp residents with tear gas “until you die” unless they stop throwing stones.
Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups contend the images, many captured by amateur smartphone users, buttress long-standing allegations of excessive force — particularly amid a wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks in which top Israeli politicians and security commanders have encouraged forces to shoot to kill suspected assailants.
“There is a very clear message sent by those politicians and military commanders that this is how law enforcement should behave,” said Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli group B’Tselem, which documents rights abuses.
Israel’s army and police defended the actions shown in the videos, with the exception of an officer who was suspended over the tear gas threat.
“Our activities in all of the cases have been responses to Palestinian aggression,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman. Israel itself has released several videos showing its forces shooting stabbers.
Video footage is increasingly central in the competition over international opinion — a contest Palestinians say they often lost in the past when it came down to their word against that of the Israeli military or Jewish settlers.
In 2007, B’Tselem began distributing video cameras to Palestinians in West Bank hot spots, such as the Israeli-controlled center of Hebron, carved out for 850 Jewish settlers.
One of the first videos, showing a settler woman harassing a female Palestinian neighbor, went viral, Michaeli said. About 200 Palestinians have B’Tselem-issued cameras today.
With the rise in smartphone use — 10-fold over five years — the impact of such amateur images has only grown.
Take several controversial videos that have emerged in recent days.
One shows the aftermath of what Israeli police say was a stabbing attack of an Israeli soldier by 23-year-old Mahdi Mohtasseb last Thursday. The video begins with Mohtasseb lying face-down in a Hebron street — already wounded by Israeli fire, according to local activists.
A member of the Israeli security forces approaches and — as Mohtasseb slowly tries to lift himself — shoots him from about 15 feet (five meters). Mohtasseb is then shown lifeless and bloodied as Israel’s paramilitary border police inspect the body.
Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said Mohtasseb still posed a danger because he might have a gun or explosives and ignored calls not to move.
“He tried to get up” as a soldier approached, she said, adding that the officer who fired the fatal shot was “worthy of praise.”
Shukri Mohtasseb, a cousin, said Mahdi Mohtasseb was planning on getting engaged and had no reason to carry out an attack.
He maintained his cousin was unarmed, though he did not witness the incident.
“The soldiers … could have arrested him because he was injured, but they killed him in cold blood,” he said.
Israeli regulations permit security forces to use lethal force when they believe their lives are in danger — a subjective gauge, especially when Israelis are feeling so jittery.
Since mid-September, 11 Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded in Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbings, while 69 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including 43 who Israel says were involved in attacks or attempted attacks.
“We are faced with a reality of people walking down the street and pulling out a knife with lethal intentions,” said Lerner, the military spokesman. “There are both means and intent on behalf of those attackers. That is why they have to be stopped, even at the price of lethal force.”
Rights groups say Israeli troops are often too quick on the draw and are rarely held accountable.